Its hard to put into words the beauty of this country and its people. Its worlds apart from Vietnam, and is closer to but still distinct from Thailand. I didn’t expect to like it the best and maybe that’s part of my excitement about it. The unexpected shining diamond in the roughest of rough.
I spent the first 3 days in the country just sobbing. If you don’t know the country’s history of war and genocide, I suggest you look into that. I warn you though it’s a gruesome story and it’s not ancient history. The people of Cambodia are still suffering in the aftermath of the American war, of past and present conflicts with Vietnam, of the horrendous reign of the Khmer Rouge, from the millions of land mines left behind from it all, and the ongoing corruption of their government. Its truly heartbreaking. I know I’m not painting a picture of warmth and beauty and paradise here but man, what lies beneath.
What I saw, what touched me so deeply was the people. There is nothing that I find more fascinating about human nature than the resilience of those who can keep beauty and hope alive in the face of trauma. To love and laugh in spite of living through unbelievable horrors of injustice and evil. This is what I saw in Cambodia. I saw community, generosity, laughter, love, kindness, compassion, unbelievable strength and faith. Faith that brought me to my knees. Everyone we met was so open with their knowledge of history and with their perspectives on Cambodia today. They are incredibly astute and astonishingly honest. We had no experiences where we felt like we were getting a shake down, or where we felt unsafe. Business transactions were transparent and kindness was genuine.
From a tourist perspective, this was also the most rewarding country of the 3 we visited in Asia. The temples, the jungle, Angkor Wat, the history, the fishing villages, the food and the Cambodian beaches didn’t disappoint either. It was also relatively easy to get off the tourist track and see a more rural Cambodia. It’s not overrun everywhere with tourism and even in Siem Reap it just took a short bike ride to feel miles away from anything resembling a city.
ANGKOR WAT. Words can’t describe. I will never forget this place and how it felt to be there.
Again, we were lucky enough to meet some locals in the town of Battambang, and were invited to their home to share food, drinks and learn some dancing Cambodian style. They had never interacted with tourists before. It was pretty special.
Battambang was an amazing place and our favorite. I could’ve spent months there.
This family. Thank you for your hospitality and friendship.
We ended our time on the small island of Koh Rong Samolem in a small fishing village called M’pai bay. The village itself wasn’t pretty. It probably was, but now the development that is happening there is fast and furious and they just don’t have the infrastructure to manage it. So much rubbish on the beach. So much construction. A local told me that the village had about 50 families living there under 2 years ago and now has 400. The secret islands of Cambodia won’t be secret for long. I imagine its much like what Thailand was 15 years ago. I heard many different opinions from locals and from foreign business owners about the pros and cons of this. Im not in a position to judge, but I can say that it felt like things were happening at a manic like pace and it was confusing to make sense of the overall vision, especially in M’Pai Bay. The surrounding beaches were incredible and serine. For now.
Every time I travel to a different country I become somewhat seduced. I always want to go back and I often do at least once. I was already in Thailand this year in March for example. Ive been to the same place in the Baja Mexico 3 times. Maybe its just my nature. I also have a hard time ordering something different on a menu once I’ve discovered something I like. I get addicted to friendships and lovers. I like to think of it as loyalty rather than obsession…because loyalty is a far less irritating adjective.
Anyway…my point is…I think I have a giant crush on Cambodia and I feel that our relationship, albeit brief, was meaningful. I think I’ll be seeing Cambodia again.